Banong Villagers in Land Dispute Lobby Capital

About a dozen representatives of some 200 ethnic minority Banong families who accuse a rubber company of encroaching on their ancestral lands in Kratie province were in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to ask Prime Minister Hun Sen and the U.N. for help.

They submitted petitions to a representative of Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet and the U.N.’s visiting human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi.

The families say they have been using parts of the disputed 150 hectares for generations as farmland and a burial site, and accuse the Dau Tu Saigon-Binh Phuoc company of bulldozing it in March.

Khom Nhoam, one of the villager representatives, said authorities in Chet Borei district offered to give the families a communal land title for an adjacent 450 hectares if they gave up the disputed area, but the families refused.

The loss of the 150 hectares, Mr. Nhoam said, “has a huge impact on our traditions because we use the area for graves and to support our living.”

“We want them to give us back our land for grazing our animals and to keep our traditions,” said Uon In, another representative. “We just want the land, we do not need any compensation.”

A representative for Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet, Kong Chamroeun, met the villagers at Wat Botum park and accepted their petition, promising to raise their complaint with his boss.

The villagers then visited the country headquarters of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, where they were allowed a brief meeting with Mr. Subedi.

The villagers said the rights envoy said he would raise their case during his upcoming meetings with government officials.

The company denies wronging the families. Tith Tatia, a liaison for Dau Tu Saigon, said the firm was granted a 6,434-hectare concession for a rubber plantation in 2008.

He said the firm has stuck to a promise not to develop a 500-hectare section claimed by local villagers until the dispute was settled and accused the families now claiming the 150 hectares of trying to take more land than they had a right to.

“We do not destroy or bulldoze their farmland,” he said.

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